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The horror in Syria, the cold realities of international action

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Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who last July criticized President Barack Obama for supporting the NATO mission that helped drive Libya's Muammar Qaddafi from power (Mr. Romney fretted about "who’s going to own Libya if we get rid of the government there?”) wants arms shipments to the rebels and "more assertive measures to end the Assad regime." He blamed President Obama for "lack of leadership [that] has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals."

He's not alone. The Washington Post's hawkish editorial page is on board too, sort of. In an editorial largely dedicated to ridiculing Mr. Annan's failed effort ("feckless," "one of the most costly diplomatic failures in UN history") it calls for Obama to do, well, something. The paper insists the time has come for US "leadership," but through what means, and exactly to where, it doesn't say.

The Post probably didn't intend to send a message with this vagueness, but the coyness on the specifics of what the US should be doing points to a reality that makes a foreign military intervention in Syria far more dangerous than the case of Libya. Syria's armed forces are better trained, led, and armed than Libya's were under Qaddafi, and they have held firm for over a year, whereas Qaddafi suffered major leadership defections from the moment the uprising broke out in February of last year.

More worrying still is the increasingly evident sectarian nature of some of the fighting. Libya has troubled divisions, but not much in the way of religious ones. Syria is home to Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Shiites, and ethnic Kurds.

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